In an age where even our nation’s top leaders appear to struggle with the concept of consent, getting the conversation right with your children might seem intimidating.
Our attempts to educate the next generation on bodily autonomy are so often filled with euphemisms, metaphors and innuendo, that kids and teenagers can be left feeling more confused than when they started.
This is to say nothing of that milkshake video.
For a country that prides itself on a globally superior education, Australians are left shamefully in the dark when it comes to frank conversations about sex.
Former Dolly Doctor Melissa Kang and TV presenter and author Yumi Stynes want that to change, so they’ve written a book to help facilitate these daunting discussions.
“Consent was never taught when I was at school … maybe you’d hear about an assault case on the news and the questions would be about what she was wearing and what she was drinking at the time,” Stynes told The New Daily.
“It was very much putting the blame back on the victim – it was something that was illustrated as their fault.”
Designed for kids as young as eight, teenagers as old as 18 and parents as old as 108, Dr Kang and Ms Stynes believe Welcome To Consent is a much-needed tool that has been missing from our bookshelves.
It aims to assist parents and their kids navigate the nuances of bodily autonomy, how to set and respect boundaries and later, how to negotiate sex.
They believe it’s an ongoing conversation that “changes as your child changes”.
“An eight-year-old might want to talk about not getting up in people’s faces and respecting people’s body space and personal space, whereas a 12-year-old might want to talk about kissing and holding hands,” Stynes said.
“Even a tiny baby has the basic right to bodily autonomy,” Dr Kang added.
Shed the shame
In 2021, our nuanced understanding of consent has long surpassed the basic notion of ‘No means no’.
Issues of gender, power, persuasion and intoxication can sometimes make it difficult for people to assert themselves and identify when their limits have been crossed.
Kids and teenagers are in desperate need of accessible, clear information that can help them form strong, healthy boundaries – and respect those of others.
But fear, discomfort and awkwardness continue to rule sex talk, which results in those key take-aways being shrouded in cloaks of shame.
“There are the echos of the shame we were taught from our elders, some of it’s cultural, some of it’s religious, some of it’s social – the shame is coming at us from multiple directions,” Stynes said.
Parents who want to protect their children from potentially upsetting aspects of human behaviour needn’t worry.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of in this book,” Dr Kang added.
Welcome To Consent explores the role of power in negotiating and setting boundaries – both sexual and physical – and how power can be intrinsically gendered.
It includes diverse perspectives and voices we might have otherwise overlooked.
Autistic people, Indigenous people, able-bodied people, disabled people and queer people have all contributed their insights to help shape this honest, realistic discussion.
The book also explores how to teach our own children how to set and enforce their own physical boundaries, long before the prospect of sex enters the picture.
“It doesn’t have to be complicated, ‘Can I give you a hug? Can I give you a kiss? Would you like to give grandma a hug today?’ ” Dr Kang said.
“Just simple things like that that don’t have to become onerous or intrusive.”
Like Dr Kang, Ms Stynes is also a mother, and she says respecting kids’ bodily autonomy at home means they will be more confident and equipped to enforce it with others when they are older.
“If I were to force my child to do a hug or a kiss when they didn’t want to, it’s kind of a gross message to be sending to them, that actually I can override their discomfort,” Stynes said.
Welcome To Consent by Yumi Stynes and Dr Melissa Kang is out now.